Lamia Balafrej

(781) 283-3317
B.A., M.A., Ecole Normale Supérieure (Paris) and University of Paris; Ph.D., University of Provence
JAC 357A

Lamia Balafrej
Assistant Professor of Art

Art historian working on the art and architecture of the Islamic world and their interweaving with global art history.

Modern scholarship on Islamic art is often interested in the meaning of monuments or the iconography of images, thereby engaging the assumption that Islamic art deals with representational concepts. In my research and teaching, one of my objectives is to challenge this emphasis on representation by uncovering the self-reflexive ways in which the arts of the Islamic world have addressed the question of visual culture. I also seek to bridge the study of Pre-modern Islamic art with current debates in art theory and world art history.

In my courses, I always try to illuminate the most paradoxical and unfamiliar aspects of Islamic art by reconstituting the various scenarios of their historical receptions. For instance, we study the Dome of the Rock (ca. 691, Jerusalem) as a stage for multisensory spectacles designed to commemorate events from the Prophet’s biography, hence showing that its form and materiality were thought to transform affects rather than convey stable meanings. I am also thrilled to teach Western Medieval art and architecture, and to explore with students themes that question the boundaries between subjects and objects, the self and the other, such as relationships between art and emotions and cross-cultural encounters around the Mediterranean.

My current book project examines Persian book painting from the fifteenth century. Using interdisciplinary and reception-based approaches, I argue that painting was not merely devoted to illustration, but could also prompt all sorts of responses on the creative process of the painter. In fact, paintings address their own reception, through various strategies such as the miniaturization of details, which invites the viewer to look closely, evaluate the thinness of the drawing and elaborate fictions on authorship. The function of painting therefore shifts from a device of representation to an object of performance.

My interest in the performative aspects of Islamic art has led me to spend a lot of time looking at contemporary installation art. As a native of Morocco, I am also very attentive to the current political and social dynamics in the Islamic world, among which the ongoing Arab Spring, as well as their resonances worldwide.